DISCLAIMER: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. I gain no profit off of this and am merely a fan. Cover was made using a Google image.
WARNINGS: AU. Maybe OOC. Slash and Het pairings. Bisexuality. Violence. Eventual sexual content. Language. These boys don't skimp on the f-word yo. Torture. Was rewritten in January 2014. If something looks different, or new, that's because it is.
Brother of the Fox
He wasn't real. Never was, they said, but I have this memory of him anyway, from back when we were six.
You know what they say about inner demons: they might hide, but they never die. Mine hides behind a mask.
Back when Konohagakure was still edged in green and silver, mountains on one end, the ocean on the other, we could get lost for days in the alleys, and no one would ever come looking for us.
He was always there, always one step ahead of me, and no one ever crossed him, ever wanted to know what his dangerous side looked like, because he was always wearing it on his sleeve. Maybe I was jealous. A flash of blue. A grin stretched too tight. His voice in my ear, always, when people would glare at the two little street rats running corners. And he'd whisper, get them, Naruto, get them. They can't talk to us like that!
That summer when we were six, he tried coaxing me to steal an apple off old Mrs. Iwate's fruit cart. The sun was glaring and the heat was sticky. My stomach hurt like hell. He needled me until I inched forward, pretending to be interested in the goldfish Iwate kept on her stand. It was already sagging to the bottom of its bowl like a lump of fools gold under the sun. Iwate watched me like a hawk. I pretended to tie my shoe.
He was already laughing at me, bent over in his hiding place behind the chickens, coughing on feathers and shit.
I made an ugly face at him.
Iwate turned her head, and I snatched the apple. I turned to show it to him, raised over my head like a trophy, but the old bitch caught my arm so fast her nails cut little half-moons into my skin. She spanked me, good and hard until I cried so everyone could see, and said I was damn lucky she wasn't going to rat me out. Then she ate the apple I dropped, taking a bite with a loud crunch, the juice dribbling down her chin.
I swore at her.
"Little shit," she'd said, and tossed me away back into the crowd, like a bad fish. When I walked back to the alley, my ass as sore as my pride, he was laughing so hard he was crying.
He'd said, "I knew you couldn't do it!"
Maybe I never could.
The boy from 2A is crying again, and that's when I stop pretending I'm dreaming.
"Please! Come get me, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'M SORRY!" 2A's sobbing so hard he's screaming now, going all-out banshee, but the asylum swallows his misery and there's no one around to tell him to shush. Just a nurse with a needle and too cold hands. Maybe some boys will hiss at him through their bars, but that'll just make him scream louder.
Some nights I want to yell back at him and tell him to shut the fuck up, because some of us actually like to sleep.
Well, most of us. The boy next door, 2C, never sleeps, and I never hear him speak. Ever. Sometimes I think, when he finally decides to say something, dust will flit past his lips. During mealtimes, he stares at his food like it'll start to sizzle if he glares hard enough, and I can see he doesn't sleep. I know, because the bags under his eyes are so bad he started lining his eyes with kohl, daring somebody, anybody, to look at him.
He almost killed the kid who called him a fag for it. Now we all pretend he doesn't exist, as if mere eye contact will tickle his dangerous side.
2A stops screaming for no-name. Maybe they finally sedated him for the night. It's sadistic, but suddenly I miss it, the needle. A prick and you're gone, off to somewhere serene where real sleep in this cell will never take you. Maybe I'll dream of birds and clouds and the smell of fresh cut grass, because it's what I miss most about summer. But I'd probably dream of him, so I won't feel alone. I have this dream where we're bounding through trees, sky, and fire, and he's grinning at me. The smile that splits his face wide, shows off every one of his teeth, like a shark. He always watches me like he knows whether I'll make the next jump or not.
I never know, because I always wake up before I jump. I wake back up to sterile hallways and the acrid tang of urine stale in the air. And then I'm just alone, someplace quiet, dark, and icy. I imagine that it's snowing outside. Fat, white flakes that flutter to the ground like starved ballerinas. Maybe that's why it's so damn cold in here, why the floor milks the heat out of me if I stop on it without my socks. And I hate it.
But I guess it doesn't matter. I won't be in here forever. He'll come back. He always does. It's the only thing that keeps me sane. But maybe I'm already crazy.
The red light above my cell door starts to blink. Bedtime. It flickers, then goes out, quick as a candle. I think I hear the wind howl outside as the dark closes in. I try to listen, but it's drowned out by yells and cat-calls, vicious lullabies.
Someone's singing, "Dead boy comin'. Dead boy comin'. See how he runs?"
"See how he runs?" the prison echoes, and I hear the loud smack of a nightstick on cell doors.
Some poor soul's being fed to the Beast tonight, and the boys are signing to him as he walks. And we all know where he's going. Down, down, to the pit, down the throat that leads to the Beast.
"Dead boy comin'."
The boys like to say the Pit winds down to Hell itself. I've seen the hallway, once or twice, on my way to breakfast. Rumors breed around it like wildfire, and those who laugh at it are the most afraid. I know, because their eyes go too wide, show much white, as they throw their head back and laugh like the world will end if they don't.
Those stone steps lead down, down, somewhere black and forgotten, until it hits the basement. At night, orange shadows play along the black stairwell like there's a fire going at the bottom, and if you listen hard enough, you can hear a metal clink from somewhere deep below. It's the Beast, the boys say. The Beast's hungry again.
The boys will be watching tonight, through the little hole in their doors, gripping the metals bars and hopping like monkeys. The song is getting louder, and I finally stand up, trudge to the door to watch. The boy walking tries to run, and he's dragged the rest of the way.
"NO! WAIT! WAIT!"
Everyone watches. No one in the Senju Institute for Mental Health misses a dead boy walking to the Pit.
They like to call it an asylum, a hospital, a place for the infirm. In the head. But that's almost funny, because you go to hospitals to get better.
You come to the Institute to rot.
They don't tell you it's prison. They don't tell you they're locking you up with some of the most dangerous, fucked up, off-the-wall bastards the Five Countries have ever seen.
"Do you know why you're here, Naruto?" Dr. Yakushi is looking at me, like he always does, like any minute I'm going to pop and say something interesting. He's young. Some kid, but he likes to talk like he's a man. Makes me hate him. He keeps pushing up his glasses, like his nose is too small to hold them.
There are days I want jam them into his face, just so he'll stop doing it.
He crosses his legs. Bounces his foot. Taps his notepad with his little silver pen. His eyes are black. Bright, like beetle shells, like the ones I used to find dead in the Hideout's window when I was a kid. For someone so young, all the color's been sucked right out of him. He's just gray and black and pale.
My heart's beating so fast I think it's trying to claw its way out. My teeth chatter, clench. Why is always so fucking cold? I feel naked on the examining table under my slip of a hospital gown, hooked up to wires until I feel like a spider with too many legs. A nurse stands by the shock machine, as gray and pale as Yakushi. Her fingers twitch on the lever. I know it's because she wants to pull it.
Everyone here must be a closet sadist.
Beep, beep, beep, the machines whir.
I swallow, hard enough to make my throat constrict, but my mouth still feels dry. "Because they think I killed that man."
There's a pause.
Wrong answer. Again.
"Everyone thinks? Or everyone knows? There's a difference. One suggests there's room for uncertainty. The other promotes there's an undeniable truth to it. Once you come to accept and confess to your crimes, the easier your time here will become." He taps his pen against the notepad again. Tap, tap, tap.
I don't say jack shit.
He nods to the nurse, and I see her mouth twitch. She pulls the lever, and oh, that pain. Your body seizes up like it doesn't know what to do with itself and your eyes roll back, and everything hurts, even your blood is screaming. Your mouth goes drier than it already was. I don't even scream anymore. Just lay there gaping like a fish.
By the third time, I'm drooling all over myself. I forgot to care a long time ago.
"Why are you here, Naruto?"
My tongue flops uselessly in my mouth. When the bitch in white goes for the lever again, I shake my head.
"Okay, okay," I croak.
Dr. Yakushi pushes his glasses up his nose. "Are you ready to confess, Naruto?" he asks. The silence is heavy, it's suffocating. My voice lodges in my throat.
"I didn't kill….anyone."
The pen taps faster against the notepad. He's irritated. My head is buzzing. My body aches. I think I'm going to throw up if the white, staticky lights on the ceiling keep glaring at me.
"Then who did?" he finally asks.
I let my head loll to the side so I can look at him, so I can grin. I shake my wrists against the thick leather binds that strap me down. I point at myself, laughing a little through my nose, and say, just to spite everyone, " The Fox did it."
The nurse pulls the lever.
I dream of a house hidden in the woods. A man lives there. A man with red eyes who has a daughter, a wife, a dog. I dream of him dead on the floor while his wife screams, and her face is splattered with his blood, because she was standing right behind him when the bullet went through his head. She won't stop screaming.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
I'm holding the gun in my dream, finger ready to squeeze the trigger, and in my ear, he says, do it. Do it. Remember what they did to us? The Uchihas brought this on themselves, Naruto. Do it. Do it for me. His hand covers mine, points the gun steady at Uchiha's wife, and he's more real right then than he's been in months.
He steps away and waits. Uchiha's wife watches me. She's silent.
I lower the gun.
He sneers and says, "I knew you couldn't do it."
I don't stop dreaming.
He named himself Fox when we were eight. He chose it because it was odd, something you don't forget.
"If my mother's dead, why do I need to use the name she gave me? If I'm on my own, I can call myself whatever the hell I want." So he'd jumped up on a crate in the dirty alley, like a king above thieves, hollering at the sky.
"I'm Fox! I'm Fox! And nobody ever forget it!" Foxes are cunning and fast, just like him. He could steal you blind staring up at you with a smile, and disappear into the shadows quieter than an owl when he sensed danger.
He always said I wasn't fast enough. I was stupid, or I made him look clumsy. Once, he punched me in the nose for tripping over a rope in the fishing dock, ruining our chances to steal a bucket of eels for lunch. I was five. I cried and cried and cried, saying he broke my nose. Later, when I slept, I felt his fingers ghost over my face as he put his blanket over me.
"Sorry," he had whispered. It was the only time he ever said it, and I never forgot it.
I know I'm coming to when I start to feel pain. You can look one way and see light in the corner, but that doesn't mean you're awake.
I'm still strapped to the table, and the cold is starting to seep into my bones. I haven't moved. Still in the same damn place, with that white light bobbing overhead like a firefly. I would have kept staring at it, if I hadn't realized I wasn't alone.
2C is wrapped in a straitjacket, hunched on a metal chair by the door, looking all doom and gloom and murder. His hair is the only color in the room- a bright, poppy red. It's all clumped and knotted on his head. Probably hasn't taken a shower in a while. Then again, neither have I. He's starting to look like all of us after a while-like the lights in the examination room have bleached his skin, leaving him bony and tired and pissed off.
He seems to realize I'm staring, because his head snaps up. His eyes are green, like bottle glass. He has the kind of gaze that feels like he's ripping you open, secret by secret.
He doesn't look away, just keeps daring me to. I don't back down. Instead, I say, "I'm gonna bust out of here."
He watches me, silent, then slowly looks away to glare at the door. I didn't think he'd say anything. He never does.
Someone's walking down the hallway. I can hear the echoes from the footsteps, so I pretend to go back to sleep, as if I'd never woken up in the first place. Their voices begin to trickle into the room.
"...still insists that his alter ego is the murderer."
"Hmm. How interesting. Shock therapy has made no improvements?" comes the curious reply. I inwardly recoil. I know that hissing, soft voice. Been conditioned to hate it.
"None that I can see."
"The Uchiha still wish him to stand trial?"
A pause. I don't realize I'm holding my breath until my head begins to throb. Then Dr. Yakushi says, "The Chief of Police is petitioning for his immediate execution. The victim was, after all, his nephew."
"Well I'm afraid we will have to deprive Fugaku of his bloodlust for today. If the patient remains unchanged the asylum has clearance to do with the patient as we see fit. Especially a dangerous one."
My stomach twists in a knot. They're in the room now. There's another pause, a shuffling of feet and clothes.
I know he's talking about 2C. Dr. Yakushi scoffs. "Hasn't spoken since his detainment. Unresponsive. Homicidal. Nearly killed an inmate two months ago. Received isolation for it. I have a hard time believing a boy as dense as this could a kill a man like the last Kazekage." There's a lilt to his voice. A suspicion, like maybe 2C just acts dumb.
"I see," says the man with Dr. Yakushi. "And Sunagakure wants nothing to do with their little murderer?"
"He's still here, isn't he? The current Kazekage waived the return of his predecessor's body. Political reasons. Cruel. You know the tensions on the border. They threw the body to us like a slab of meat. I got to attend the autopsy, I think you would have rather enjoyed the show."
A laugh. "You know I was busy. How many attended?"
"The most elite Cyberkinetics has to offer. The Hokage. I saw doctors from various clans were present, trying to spy, gather secrets. If there was anything worth uncovering they didn't find it, and Sunagakure didn't seem to think it worth the trouble. He was killed here anyway, in an apartment complex near the base. And they say he was an untouchable man, yet his own son killed him. Hmm. But this boy is no longer Sunagakure's concern. He's our liability."
Someone hums. I swallow and hope they don't see my throat moving with it. I'm wondering about 2C. I never knew the reason he was here. There were rumors. He'd raped someone important. He was a terrorist. Black Ops Marine who cracked, bat-sht crazy, and went rogue. He was the serial killer from Kiri who drank his victims' blood.
But I knew the last one wasn't true.
"Excellent. See to it that their termination notices are sent to the Warden. I'm sorely lacking in test subjects-"
Dr. Yakushi interrupts. "Perhaps we should consider moving the lab, Orochimaru-sama-"
Orochimaru snorts. It's a soft, mocking sound. Then he laughs. A little chuckle. "Of course not, Kabuto. The government gives these boys to us to take care of them. Because they don't want to. What we do with their rapists, murderers, and thieves is none of their concern. As long as we contain the problem they won't come knocking on our door." I can almost hear the smile in his voice.
"And if anyone were to see, they wouldn't know what they were looking at, anyway, would they? Poor things."
Fear grips me. I think of the boys singing in their cells. Dead boys comin'. Dead boys comin'. See how he runs?
A cold finger traces up my leg, pausing by my thigh. I clench my jaw so hard my head hurts. I'm supposed to be asleep, and the restraints wouldn't let me do a damn thing anyway.
Unless he comes close enough for me to bite. It's the only thought that keeps me still. Those cold hands are suddenly gripping my chin.
"I've been waiting for this one," Orochimaru says lightly. "I just had to be patient." His breath ghosts over my face. Warm and coppery. I try not to gag.
"Tell the Warden they're too dangerous. Do what you have to. But keep this one out of Fugaku's clutches. I want him. He was mine the minute I admitted him here. No one will ever smoke the fox out of this boy."
Soon the panic drowns out the anger that's been keeping me alive. I try to keep still. Try not to breathe too fast. The examination table begins to move. I can hear the wheels creaking.
That's when I start to wonder if he cut his losses and left me. I start to think I'm okay with that, as long as he gets away. But for one sickening moment, I wonder if Fox was ever there. I wonder if I'm going to die for nothing, and that's when I realize how far gone I am.
Where are you?
When we were eleven, Konoha's horizon grew dark with the promises of war.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!
Fox would count the booms, laugh at the thrill of bombs gouging the earth right outside the village gates. The impact would make the ground quake. Sometimes the ceiling in the orphanage shuddered, spraying us with dust and plaster. At night, when the bombs cracked, the sky lit up. Like fireworks.
I had this fear the ceiling would fall on me while I slept. There were days I don't remember falling asleep. If anyone asked, I made something up and cracked a joke about how the kid in the bunk above me was a bedwetter. If anyone laughed, I said I'd kick their ass.
Fox would watch me at night, his hands behind his head as he lounged on the lumpy bed he hated, eyes bright in the gloom. "Pussy," he'd say derisively. "I'm not scared. If I ever see the assholes who're doing this, I'd fight 'em for it. I wouldn't hide and wait for the ceiling to crack my head open." Then he'd look around at all the scared faces in the room. They were listening. Watching him.
He grinned. "I wouldn't wait here for them to kill me." Someone started to cry, and Fox leaped out of bed. Watched me.
I knew what he was doing. I slipped out of bed and we grinned at each other from across the room. I ran over to his bed, jumping on it.
"I'd spit in their eye!" I hollered, doing a little flip when Fox joined me on the bed.
"I'd bash their noses in."
"I'd tell 'em to kiss my ass!" The other kids laugh.
"They wouldn't mess with Uzumaki Naruto!" I threw a play punch, and we pretended to fight, right there on the bed.
The others started to laugh, then they started to holler, and by the time a nun walked into the room to hiss at us, every kid in the room was jumping on the bed, hollering and brandishing pretend swords and fake guns, laughing with the bombs.
We all had to line up single file. Got slapped across the hand one by one with a ruler that night and sent to bed. But we laughed when the nun left. The bombs went off, and I counted the kids in the room, as if it'd help me sleep. Every day, there was a new face in the orphanage. Someone angry or nervous or scared. I watched the attendants and the nuns bustle through the halls through the crack in the door.
Sometimes they looked just as scared as we were.
They stopped letting us play out in the street. It wasn't as easy anymore to go milling through a sea of people, wishing we would get lost and end up somewhere magical, or hugged and comforted by a rich merchant who'd always wanted a kid of his own.
Now the streets were empty. Wide and dusty, with a few scattered people hurrying through like ants in a maze. Fox and I would have to watch from the windows, or from the patchy backyard playground behind Our Lady's Home for Disadvantaged Children.
It was a sandbox, a swing, a gingko tree that looked bent and dead, and a rusty metal slide. The grass only grew in patches, and we liked to kick at it, see who could uproot the biggest clumps. The orphanage had blocked it off with wire fencing that dared us to climb over it as it glinted in the sun. But any kid with sense knew that fence had teeth. So we'd press our faces against it, fingers looping through the wire, and watch the world around it.
Sometimes we saw soldiers. Regular ones in army green and black with rifles strung across their backs and haggard faces. Once, we saw a special one.
He had a cyborg eye as red as blood, with a scar to match. The steel around it seemed to catch light, even though the sky was overcast. I had heard of the cyborg eyes of the Uchiha that could slow time, mess with your brainwaves, and throw you in illusions. The white eyes of the Hyuuga that could see through walls and pick out vital pressure points so they could kill you with a touch. I'd heard of prosthetic limbs that could morph into the sleek form of a gun or sprout the wicked point of a katana, but I'd never seen it.
Yet there he was, leaning against the brick wall of the barber shop only yards away. He was smoking, watching the kids tumble around in the playground with a curled lip, when he caught sight of me. Maybe he was looking at us, Fox and me, but I always remember it as him seeing me.
Fox grinned, excited, and he pranced off, pretending he had a cigarette and a cyborg eye, but I kept watching. The soldier couldn't have been older than Yuu, the seventeen year old who kept saying he was going to join the army and "leave this hellhole" but never did. There was something dangerous about the soldier, like he was coiled tight as a spring and could lash out faster than I could blink. I could see the red eye turn slowly as it watched me. He dropped his cigarette, ran a hand through wild silver hair, smiled crookedly. He fixed me with his normal eye, gray like woodsmoke.
He kicked off the wall, stepped on his cigarette, and waved backhandedly. "Later, kid," was all he said. I watched him disappear down the alley, just as Fox came to yank on my arm to say-
"Dead boys comin'."
The cold hand gripping my wrist isn't Fox's, and the dark gloom overhead isn't a rainy sky. My limbs freeze, my stomach roils in terror. Bile creeps up my throat. I look around wildly, but I only see eyes gleaming behind their jails. Waiting, watching. There's a wall of nurses gliding beside us, impassive. The guard ahead of us is gripping a piece of paper, nightstick bobbing against his leg.
"Dead boys comin'," someone sings again. My head is still foggy, and I trip over my own feet, sluggish. They must have given me another needle somewhere along the way. My vision's blurred at the edges, fuzzy from the effects. That cold hand yanks me up harshly again before the floor rushes up to greet me, so that pain rips through my shoulder. I see the boy from 2C walking with me, grim-faced. Without a straitjacket for once. His grip tightens.
"Get up," he orders, and I'm shocked by the softness of his voice, how it hovers in the air. I guess I'd always imagined it'd be deeper.
"Stay on your feet." He helps pull me up, more gently this time, and his fingers relax around my wrist, just slightly. No one has touched me just to do it since before I came here, six long months ago. It's weird, but oddly comforting.
My feet are frozen. They took my socks! My toes are beginning to ache from the cold as we march down the stone hall. More cells. More boys. One cries. Another laughs. Then I see it, the maw to the Beast.
Shadows play along the hallway's black throat. Come play, they seem to whisper, darting and fleeing as we approach. I can hear the metallic groan of something awful, a steaming hiss from the the underbelly of the asylum, and I wonder what they keep hidden down there.
2C keeps a hold of me, and I'm grateful, because I can't decide whether to piss myself and bolt or go out fighting even though I got no way out. I'm not bad with my fists. Not bad at all. Fox may have teased me, but I can throw a damn good punch. But time here has weakened me. I've lost muscle. I'm thin now instead of lean. 2C doesn't seem to have fared much better, as he's just as thin, and a couple inches shorter.
But his grip is strong, and I think that's all I need. The hall's grown silent, and I know it's because everyone watching is thinking this could be me tomorrow. We move closer, closer. Closer than I've ever been to the edge of Hell.
No one ever comes out of the Pit. I take a step forward, dragging my foot.
I'm not going to run. And I realize I'm going to die keeping my secrets. It's like I can't even feel the cold of the floor anymore, because I'm so jacked on adrenaline and knowing that nothing comes next. I'm not afraid of the hallway as we get closer. Not afraid of keeping Fox's secrets. I'm scared of what comes after.
2C leans toward me and says lowly in my ear, "Wait for it."
I don't know what he means. Wait for what? My fear makes everything look sharp and clear, and the adrenaline keeps my blood moving. A few more steps and we'll start to go down, but that's when something big happens. There's just enough time for 2C to grab me roughly, pull me down with him and roll away when the right half of the building collapses, explodes.
Once a bomb exploded too close to the village gates. Shrapnel and dirt came sailing over the wall, as deadly as any missile. Fox and I were in the playground. I was watching a swallow dip and swoop over the fence, alone on the swing tied to the gingko tree when it happened.
A girl pushed Fox on his ass in the mud. "Freak!" she called him. The other kids laughed. Fox stared at her like he'd never seen her before, and maybe he hadn't, because she tried to hide in the orphanage, like she didn't belong there.
I'd always liked her, even if she tried to push me down a lot and poured her porridge over my head for saying I liked her hair, because it was as pink as cotton candy. She acted tough, but her eyes were as green as grass and just as gentle. I heard her cry every night for her mother. She hit me when I had tried to console her, and Fox had laughed at me.
Sakura. That was her name. Like the cherry trees.
Fox was staring at me now, blue eyes wide, short blond hair caked in mud. It was the only thing different about us. He always teased me because I always ran from hair cuts, arms over my head. My hair stuck out in odd places, spiky and wild. I had hair as long as a girl (I didn't), he'd say, just to get a rise out of me. I always fell for the bait.
Fox was making that face. The one where his eyes went wide and his mouth hung open a little, like he couldn't believe what had just happened. He looked at me.
"Did you see what she did to me?" he yelled, standing and pointing at the girl, Sakura, who had already skipped away. I rested my head against the rope to the swing. I didn't feel like fighting. Fox might have acted tough, but it was me he yelled for when he felt a stab of injustice.
"Did you see what she did to me?" he repeated. I shrugged, lazily pushing myself on the swing.
"I already got in trouble for punching that kid for you who stole the picture of Mom." We had a picture of her. Mom had had red hair once I guess, and eyes that looked indigo, but Fox would never let me touch the picture and get a closer look. He always kept it under his pillow. You'll get it dirty, he'd say.
Fox was always getting me in trouble, but I couldn't help it if I loved my brother enough to do what he said. But maybe I was stupid. Fox stared at me.
"What's the worst that's gonna happen? You're gonna get your ear pulled and get shoved into a corner? Is that too much for you? She shoved me. You can't do this for me because you'd get the corner? Oh no, please, anything but the corner! I can't take it!" Fox flailed around, fell, pretended to die.
I got mad. The kind of mad that twists your gut and makes you feel like an idiot. "Fine!" I stomped over to her. She was playing alone with marbles on a slab of cracked concrete, under the big window I liked to stare out of when we were stuck inside. She didn't look up as I approached. Probably didn't care.
I reached out, about to pull on one of her silky pink pigtails, when I heard the boom. It rattled my teeth, made me fall to the ground. Sakura screamed. There was a hiss and a wail from the sky, and I leaped, holding onto Sakura even when she bit me out of fright, protecting her from the rain of glass that fell on us.
Later, I would have scars. Later, I would hear people in the street scream "Uchiha! Uchiha!" I'd see the blue flags of a clan symbol waving in the chilled autumn breeze. It would be lost on me until I was older; the fact that people in our own village had turned on us, sacrificed some of us for the sake of a diversion, staged a coup and assassinated the Hokage, all while forming their own treaty with the enemy. We were under new management, and all I knew was the pain of the glass in my skin and wild fear.
Where was Fox?
The war had ended, and Sakura didn't even remember my name.
The dust is so thick I can hardly breathe, can't even see past the clouds and smoke. It fills my nose, my mouth, until all I can taste is mud. I spit out dust and grit and cough on blood, groaning, rolling from my back onto my side, rising like an old man.
Something, somewhere, is aching and searing with pain. I don't know what I've sliced open, but after a quick once-over I see the gray slab of rock sticking out of my side right under a rib, I can feel the blood starting to drip down my thighs, plop in little puddles on my feet. I grimace, hissing in pain. It doesn't look too deep. I clench my teeth together, hold my breath, count to three, and yank it out with a grunt.
The blood dripping down my side is warm. I almost want to lie down, curl up in it, but I force myself to move.
My ears are ringing, and there's shouting, screaming, the wail of a siren. It's disorienting, and the ringing is so loud it mutes everything else. Shapes silhouetted against the clouds of dust flit away, back to freedom, headed back to the shadowed alleys of Konoha or maybe somewhere farther.
I stumble, tripping over the body of a nurse I just saw alive. Half of her has been crushed under a piece of ceiling. "Shit!" I curse, scuttling away. Then I remember I wasn't alone. I shield my eyes as a wall collapses, spraying more dust and rock and plaster.
"2C!" I cough out, because I don't know his name, only his room number. Someone grabs me, and I fight for a second, until I realize I know those cold fingers.
"Gaara," 2C says, and I blink at him in confusion for a second, until I realize he's told me his name. Gaara, I repeat in my head. I look away from hm, and we run, run as if we're linked and thinking the same thing. When we hit the outside, I have to close my eyes against the brightness.
There's snow. Lots and lots of snow. It's falling from a gray sky, thick and fluffy so that it clumps in my hair, on my eyelashes. We're on a mountain, with spindly trees reaching towards the sky. I miss my socks as we stumble through it. IWe have minutes, seconds maybe, until the prison guard or the police are alerted and come marching, armed, to round us up like cattle back into our cells.
Gaara keeps pulling me, and I'm running faster than I ever have in my life towards the trees. I almost can't feel the pain as we run towards some safe haven I hope exists. The snow is getting heavier, and the cold seems to be sapping the sky of its color. It's getting darker. My ears are still ringing, but the sirens' wail isn't far behind. My feet are frozen. The cold starts to hurt, It aches. I start to feel the puncture wound in my side again, and a pain in my head from where I smacked it when I fell. The snow reaches up to my bare knees, but I keep running like fire is licking at my heels.
Up ahead, something moves in the trees. Shadows. White faces I've only seen in dreams the last six months. I keep wondering if they're real.
I almost stop running, because I'm afraid I'm dying, that I'm seeing things. Maybe I'm already dead. I'm bleeding, my ears are ringing, I can't feel my feet, my vision is blurring and my head feels too heavy, but I see them, and they don't go away.
"Hurry up," Gaara grunts, and he tugs me forward.
They start to melt out of the half-light like shadows pulling free from the trees. I trip over snow once we enter the forest. I almost cry out, laughing, because I knew he wouldn't leave me, and now I'm the one pulling Gaara.
If this is heaven, I want in.
They're quiet as we stumble past the trees, silent behind their animal masks as they offer us blankets and cloaks and clothes and, thank you God, socks! There are hands clasping my shoulder, ruffling my hair in silent welcoming. Someone claps me on the back, but I don't see him. My heart starts to pound then, and the mountain air seems too thin.
I'm looking for another face. But I don't see him. My gut wrenches in panic.
There were too many nights I lied awake in pain, immobilized, because he was supposed to be real.
I remember my first night in Interrogation room 6. A metal table. Concrete floor. Observation window. White walls. I'd thought I won't be here long. I thought it was simple. I wasn't Fox. I'd walk away soon enough, and their trail would grow cold. I remember music playing. Opera. Violin. The officer in front of me pressed the play button on the recorder, a file in his lap, and I watched the recorder eat our voices. A polygraph was squatting on the table, taking up most of the space. It spazzed, spat out paper, even though we hadn't started yet. I could chant the whole conversation in my head.
Who are you?
When is your birthday?
The door opened. A rusty groan as it ripped away from the wall.
We already have everyone involved imprisoned. If you cooperate, we'll consider making you a deal. Why diid you kill Shishui Uchiha?
-...I didn't kill anyone.
I always laughed at the bluff. And the polygraph just kept humming, pissing them off. So they changed tactics.
I knew the woman they herded into the room. I hadn't seen her in years. Sister Chiyo. Under the gray light she looked pale, covered head to toe in black, her hair gathered into a severe bun that still pulled at her eyes, giving her a permanent wince. She didn't look any different. Maybe just a little thinner. Her eyes were more cutting than I remembered. A hard glint I almost didn't recognize.
She sat down, placed a small hand on the desk. I didn't look at her, because if I did, I'd remember all those times she bandaged scrapes on my knees and smuggled me candy when I'd been out too long and didn't get to the cafeteria in time for dinner.
"Can you tell us who that is?" They're testing to see if she's lying.
"Uzumaki Naruto," she said. I stared hard at the floor. The polygraph hummed. She was telling the truth.
"Do you know Uzumaki Naruto personally?"
"I helped care for him when he was under the orphanage's care."
"What was he like as a child?"
She tapped her nails on the table, humming like the polygraph. Drum, drum, drum. "He was always getting into trouble. He liked to pull pranks. But he was a lonely child."
The officer nodded again, squinting at my file. "And...his brother?" I ground my teeth at the question. But they didn't have nothing on Fox.
A pause. A pause so long, I almost looked up.
"He never had a brother."
The polygraph kept humming.
My head snapped up to look at her, and at first I thought she was helping me protect him. But then she starts to talk, and the polygraph draws the straightest fucking line I've ever seen, and I think the blood began to drain from my face, because suddenly I felt numb.
Dreams of eventually walking free went up in flames.
She smiled at me and said, "Poor, poor dear. Still playing with fantasies. It's no wonder he's cracked. 'Fox' was always getting him into trouble, sometimes it made him violent. I'm only sorry someone was killed. But...it was bound to happen eventually. We couldn't afford that type of medical care. He's dangerous. Unpredictable. You want your murderer? There he is."
I can't remember what happened next, only that one minute I was staring at her, and the next the officer was pinning me to the table, grinding my cheek viciously into the cold steel as I spat out, "Why are you lying? Why are you lying?!"
I watched Sister Chiyo pause by the window once she was on the other side. She placed her hand on the glass. She shook her head at me, putting a finger to her lips. Shhh. My confusion, my anger, slowly turned into terror. Cold, mind-numbing terror. For a moment I wondered if the bluff was real, and if it was just another way to scare me into talking.
"Where is he? What have you done with him?!" They never told me, and I only had my head smashed into the table for asking. I started bleeding and stopped talking.
I had no idea what she was trying to pull. Still don't. She was lying, had to be, and so was the machine. It had to be, and it nearly drove me insane those first few days, because whenever I lied to it on purpose, it pinged. It was never wrong. And I started to hate it. "Why do you fucking lie?" I'd asked it once.
But I owe it all to Chiyo, my days at the Institute instead of being taken to the high security prison.
Maybe it had always been a bluff to try and scare me into talking. I never knew. Some days I believed they were lying and Fox was still out there, free. Other days I wondered if Fox was rotting away in a cell, part of some twisted conspiracy I couldn't understand. But I never could figure out the Sister. What her reason was. Then there were the nights I began to wonder if Fox had ever been there at all.
Too many nights I chanted to myself I swear, I swear to God I have a brother.I know it. I know it. Then I began to play along. I started to wonder if it was the only way to protect him if he was still real. Even if he wasn't, I couldn't let him go.
My mind reels, the sirens still echoing into the twilight. Before I can panic and believe I've truly gone insane, I hear an owl cry from above, and Gaara taps me on the shoulder, his glass green eyes looking up. I follow his gaze slowly. My heart rate climbs, climbs until I think my veins will burst. Perched in a tree, watching us from behind the mocking grin of an ivory fox mask, golden hair sticking out every which way, is Fox.
A/N: This is a rewritten chapter of the original.